European sanctions imposed on Russia over its role in the Ukraine crisis should be phased out gradually if an internationally agreed ceasefire deal was implemented, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said yesterday (11 September).
The conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists has claimed more than 10,000 lives since it erupted in 2014.
Germany and France have tried to convince both sides to implement a peace deal agreed in Minsk in 2015 but with little success.
“The official agreement is: Only if there is 100 percent peace, then we’ll lift 100 percent of the sanctions,” Gabriel said during a panel discussion organized by German business daily Handelsblatt in Berlin.
Gabriel said, from his point of view, this was a “totally unrealistic” position.
“We introduced the sanctions gradually and we’ll lift them gradually – this is actually a commonly known fact,” Gabriel said.
He said that if there was a lasting ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, then the United States probably would also be willing to take similar steps.
Gabriel is a senior member of Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD), junior partners in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition and historic advocates of dialogue with Russia. Germany is heading toward the 24 September federal election.
Merkel has insisted that European sanctions against Russia could only be lifted if the Minsk peace deal was fully implemented – not only the ceasefire agreement which is one part of the broader Minsk peace plan.
Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron last month called for Russia and Ukraine to increase their efforts to implement the fragile ceasefire.
Kyiv accuses Moscow of sending troops and heavy weapons to the region, which Russia denies.
The leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine (the so-called Normandy format) gave their support to a deal to end fighting in eastern Ukraine, following 17-hour long negotiations in the Belarussian capital Minsk on 12 February 2015.
The four leaders committed to respecting Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, according to a joint declaration.
Western leaders are closely observing the implementation of the Minsk agreement.
On 2 March 2015, European leaders said that they agreed that the OSCE needed a broader role as observers of the ceasefire, and weapons removal.
On 2 October 2015, the leaders of the Normandy format admitted that it would take time to organise elections in Ukraine that respect international standards and as a result, the so-called Minsk peace process would run into next year.